B.C. seeks federal approval to ban drug use in public spaces

B.C. seeks federal approval to ban drug use in public spaces
B.C. Premier David Eby speaks during an announcement in a greenhouse at Westcoast Vegetables in Delta, B.C., on Monday, March 18, 2024.

The B.C. government says it is working with the federal government to amend the province’s decriminalization pilot project by banning public drug use and possession.

B.C. was approved by Health Canada to start a three-year decriminalization trial on Jan. 31, 2023 in an effort to curb the number of toxic drug deaths that happen in the province. This pilot project meant that people would no longer be arrested for possession or consumption of illicit drugs.

Just last month, the province passed the eight-year mark since it declared a public health emergency due to the number of toxic drug deaths.


The province recently introduced legislation to ban drug use near playgrounds, bus stops, building entrances, parks and beaches.

However, the legislation was blocked by the B.C. Supreme Court, with the judge saying “irreparable harm will be caused” if the laws come into force.

However, B.C.’s Premier David Eby says it will continue with the goal of banning drug use in public spaces and has requested Health Canada to amend the project to ban drug use in public spaces.

“Keeping people safe is our highest priority. While we are caring and compassionate for those struggling with addiction, we do not accept street disorder that makes communities feel unsafe,” said Premier David Eby. 

“We’re taking action to make sure police have the tools they need to ensure safe and comfortable communities for everyone as we expand treatment options so people can stay alive and get better.”

Bans on drug use in public spaces have been criticized, as data from the B.C. Coroner consistently shows that the majority of toxic drug deaths occur inside.

In the February 2024 report, the coroner’s data showed that 86 per cent of toxic drug deaths so far in the year occurred inside.

Since the public health emergency has been declared, 14,000 people have died due to toxic drugs in B.C.

Details on amendments

Additionally, the province is asking the federal government to amend the decriminalization pilot project to ban possession in public spaces.

The province says the changes it is seeking the federal government to implement would give police the power to enforce against drug use in all public places including hospitals, restaurants, transit, parks and beaches. Though it says guidance would be given to only arrest for possession in “exceptional circumstances.”

Instead of arresting, police will be told to instruct the person to leave the area, seize the drugs, or arrest if necessary.

“Our communities are facing big challenges. People are dying from deadly street drugs and we see the issues with public use and disorder on our streets,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. 

“As we continue to go after the gangs and organized criminals who are making and trafficking toxic drugs, we’re taking action now to make it illegal to use drugs in public spaces, and to expand access to treatment to help people who need it most.”

The province says if approved, possession and consumption will still be decriminalized in private residence or place where someone is legally sheltering, or at overdose prevention sites and drug checking locations.

Additionally, the province says it is expanding access to treatment for those with addictions issues by increasing the availability of opioid-agonist treatment (OAT); integrating addictions services with health care, housing and other services; and working with experts to develop methods to track prescribed alternatives to identify and track diversion.


Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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